This is my personal process for free-flowing writing. I like to set myself up for success, and I have found ways to make it easier for my brain to perform. Now I share that process and hopefully it helps others, although you’ll need to adjust this to your own preferences as well as the type of writing.
This has evolved quite a bit for me over the years. Back in my college days, my step two would have been “Read a bunch of Shakespeare.” It seemed to help at the time, and although it’s no longer part of my writing routine, I would definitely recommend reading something that inspires you before getting started.
Step 1: Set Music
I find that my subconscious mind appreciates a little background music, although it can be tricky to find something that will keep that part of your mind quiet without drawing your mental focus into the lyrics and away from your work. I like the album “Since I Left You” by the Avalanches, and a Pandora station created from Moby.
Step 2: Gather Necessities
For me, that includes a healthy, free-flowing pen, paper both lined and unlined, and if I’m not at work, a robust glass of shamefully cheap red wine. Usually I’ll set my computer up as well. Since it’s a dinosaur, I get started on the next step while it fires up.
Step 3: Clean
Sounds odd, I’m sure, but I swear it works for me. I have noticed that I think more clearly in a neat space, and so when I’ve got my music set up, I tidy up my work area while I think about the topic of my writing. For me, it feels like I’m cleaning up my brain, and while that might not be the case for everyone, I’d definitely encourage every writer to take a moment to really consider the subject before setting pen to paper or fingertips to keys.
Since my writing station was set up in the last step, I’m free to jot down ideas and phrases as I think of them while cleaning.
Step 4: Brainstorming / Free Writing
I often make word webs, but I find free writing a lot more helpful to my personal process. It’s all a matter of preference. After awhile of writing whatever the devil comes to mind in reference to my topic, I will have an outline buried in nonsense, and the next step is to uncover it.
When I’ve got my main ideas on paper, often paired with lots of whimsical doodles, I dig them out and make a list of them in an order that flows well and makes sense story-wise, generally in a bulleted list. Boom: outline. Not necessary for every writing project but very handy for many.
Step 6: Start Writing
Generally since I’ve already been writing by hand for awhile, I’ll usually start that way. I have always preferred writing by hand and probably will until it rots off from the gangrene I plan on getting later in life. I keep writing until I hit a wall or my hand starts hurting.
Step 7: Start Typing
If I’ve hit a wall, I gather up my leaves of chicken scratch and transcribe them into a Word doc. (I’m so unhip, I know.) Every time I do this, by the time I have gotten to the end of my written words, I’ve got more ideas for where I want to go next or what I want to go back and add more to. So the ideas keep flowing.
If they were already flowing and my hand was just cramping up, then I skip going back and typing up what I’ve already written and just jump right to the screen on the same current of thought the ink ended on. I can always go back and type it up later.
Step 8A: Back to Handwriting
If I have more to say on the subject, but can’t think of the words, I’ll switch back to free writing and keep writing by hand once the ideas start coming again, repeating steps 5 and 6.
Step 8B: Move Down Outline
If I am out of stuff to say, I’ll start bridging over to the next line item on the outline and repeat steps as necessary until I’ve hit all of them.
Step 9: Read It and Season It
After that I’ll read everything I’ve written and 9/10 times I will find places where I want to add more substance or prettify the language.
Step 10: Write a Conclusion
I think it helps to read the whole paper once over before you wrap it up. For me at least, it helps me to reference the entire paper in the conclusion rather than just the last few concepts of the paper while completely forgetting all the stuff I wrote in the beginning.
Step 11: Proofread and Further Revise
Proof it one more time. I’ve heard it’s a good idea to proof your work backwards paragraph by paragraph. The idea is that you’ll catch more grammar mistakes if you aren’t caught up in the flow of your own paper. Seems legit. Anyway I always end up revising in this step anyway, so keep going until you aren’t changing anything but grammatical errors, fix that stuff, and it’s ready J
Optional: Step 12: Reread Obsessively
After the work has been submitted, turned in, published, printed, whatever, and it’s too late to make edits, continue to reread it obsessively anyway, and beat yourself up over how you should have said something a different way (but now it’s too late).
Hope that works for someone out there! I’d love to hear about things others have in their writing procedures as well. Like I said, this is a constantly evolving process and I would love some new ideas!